Stefan Fisher-Hoyrem -Rethinking the Equation of Modernity and Secularity after Charles Taylor: The Performance of Secular Time in Victorian England

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Sacred Modernities: Rethinking Modernity in a Post-Secular Age

18 September 2009

Stefan Fisher-Hoyrem (Oxford Brookes University)
Rethinking the Equation of Modernity and Secularity after Charles Taylor:
The Performance of Secular Time in Victorian England

The early historiography of British secularization was based on the writings of church leaders lamenting what they perceived as the lack of religion among the working classes, and saw this decline as an inevitable and inexorable consequence of modernization. Later historiography has critiqued the traditional thesis both empirically and conceptually, and sought to delay the ‘real’ advent of secularization until the mid-twentieth century. Yet, all the perspectives within the historiography share an understanding of the secular as non-religion – a space or domain in opposition to religion. Post-secular critiques from a number of positions have thrown this dichotomy of the religious/non-religious into doubt, and called for new ways of understanding the secular. Following Charles Taylor’s suggestive work, this paper views secularity as a particular conception of time, what is otherwise termed Newtonian, empty or homogenous time. It argues that during the Victorian period, this concept of time became instituted on a level of practice and technological performance, eventually becoming part of a taken-for-granted background shared by large strata of the population – regardless of their professed religiosity/non-religiosity. Though the Victorians entertained, and indeed practised, other conceptions of time, secular time became dominant because it was implied in common everyday practices that most people participated in, including reading the newspaper and using cash.

Stefan Fisher-Hoyrem is currently a PhD student at Oxford Brookes University, where he is completing a PhD provisionally entitled ‘Time Machines: Technology and the Performance of Secular Time in Victorian England’.

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